Newhan pens success story with Orioles

Sportswriter's son finds major league niche at 30, is hitting .405 in 20 games

`He's ... outstanding with the bat'

Utility man overcomes injury, doubts about size

Orioles

July 09, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

Being the son of a prominent baseball writer has had its privileges for Orioles utility man David Newhan.

Before he reached his teens, he had already set foot in a major league clubhouse. His father, Ross Newhan of the Los Angeles Times, took him to spring training with the California Angels, and before long, the equipment men put young David to work.

They let him be the batboy and had him sweep the floors.

"Ever since then, I've always wanted to be a baseball player," Newhan said. "It's the one thing I wanted to do."

Of course, wanting something and actually attaining it are different things. Newhan, 5 feet 10, often jokes that he has had to overcome his sportswriter father's genes.

Newhan's journey from that spring training clubhouse in Palm Springs, Calif., to Baltimore - where, at age 30, he has just gone on a 20-game tear for the Orioles - was littered with obstacles, injuries and other people's doubts.

The story truly is a sportswriter's dream.

Newhan enters tonight's game against the Kansas City Royals batting .405, with four home runs, 15 RBIs and at least one hit in all but one of his 20 games.

Toiling at Triple-A with the Colorado Rockies last season and again for most of this year with the Texas Rangers - despite impressive statistics - Newhan has resurrected his career.

Baseball people try not to get too excited about early hot streaks, but after watching his 74 at-bats, Orioles hitting coach Terry Crowley sounds sold.

"I see signs of a guy who's going to help us ... for many years," Crowley said. "He can play different positions, he hangs in tough against lefties, he can hit for power and he can run like heck.

"I've seen enough of him already to wonder what other teams were doing when they didn't have him at the major league level."

Newhan was used to the doubts.

Coming out of Esperanza High School in Anaheim, Calif., he didn't receive a single offer to play for a Division I college, despite hitting close to .500 for a team that was ranked No. 1 in the country by USA Today.

So he spent one year at Cypress (Calif.) Junior College, where scouts finally started to notice his potent left-handed bat. After playing one season for Georgia Tech and two for Pepperdine, he got picked by the Oakland Athletics in the 17th round of the 1995 draft.

One of Newhan's minor league teammates was Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada. In 1996, at Single-A Modesto (Calif.), both gained respect as power hitters.

Tejada hit 20 home runs. Newhan hit 25.

Eight years later, Newhan strolled into the Orioles' clubhouse, after being released by the Rangers, and Tejada greeted him with a wide-eyed grin.

"It was a long time, and I didn't see him," Tejada said. "I was happy, too, because I knew he was a good hitter."

Newhan reached the big leagues with the San Diego Padres in 1999 with considerable glee, but he was used sparingly and didn't really get a chance to blossom until 2001, with the Philadelphia Phillies.

He had a couple of game-winning RBIs early that season, and the Phillies asked him if he could play some outfield to fill in after Brian Hunter got injured.

But he tried making a leaping catch during batting practice and pinned his right arm awkwardly against the outfield wall, wrecking his throwing shoulder.

After overcoming all the doubts about his small size, Newhan had a considerable new challenge. He had surgery to repair the labrum in his right shoulder in June 2001, but as he said, "it didn't take."

So after 15 months of tedious rehab work, he underwent arthroscopic surgery to fix his rotator cuff in September 2002.

He signed with the Rockies last year and again put up some gaudy numbers. He hit .348 at Triple-A Colorado Springs, but the Rockies never even gave him a sniff of the big leagues.

Finally for this season, his agent, Scott Boras, worked a clause into his contract that required the Rangers to either promote him to the big leagues by June 15 or grant him his release.

As the deadline approached, Newhan was hitting .328 for Triple-A Oklahoma but growing more and more disenchanted. His wife, Karen, is expecting their first child in January, and the travel in the Pacific Coast League was taking its toll.

"I talked to him in early June," Ross Newhan said, "and I felt that was the lowest I've ever heard him."

But Ed Kenney, the Orioles' director of baseball administration, spoke with a Boras associate about Newhan and started making a push to sign him. With the Orioles depleted by injuries, they added him June 18.

That night, in his first big league at-bat in three years, he drilled a 435-foot home run off Rockies reliever Shawn Chacon. He is hitting so well, the Orioles aren't overly concerned about his five errors at third base.

"He's done a very adequate job with the defense, and he's been outstanding with the bat," Crowley said. "I like it when he's at the plate. That's the biggest compliment I can give anybody."

NOTE: The Orioles recalled Jose Leon from Triple-A Ottawa, replacing reliever Rick Bauer, who was optioned to Ottawa after Wednesday's 13-3 loss to Tampa Bay. Leon has hit .323 with 15 homers at Triple-A this season, and .143 with one home run in 13 games with the Orioles.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Kansas City Royals

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 7:35

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Royals' Darrell May (5-9, 5.74) vs. Orioles' Erik Bedard (3-2, 3.84)

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